To step into John Derian’s boutique in Manhattan’s East Village is to enter an alternative universe, where 18th-century lanterns immortalized in plexiglass mix and mingle with porcelain horse chestnuts, embroidered velvet turtles, and antique marionettes. Derian, who began his career in 1989 as a découpage artist, has been largely responsible for revitalizing that art form and bringing it to well-styled homes in the United States and beyond through an extensive collection of trays, paperweights, wall hangings, and even cake stands. No wonder he has an especially refined take on the key components to the good life. —Ashley Baker
Airline: One where the food is delicious … Why can’t it be?
Airport: One that has easy access, no lines, and fun things to do. I see playgrounds for kids, so what’s wrong with something for adults? I guess that’s called a bar, but have you ever seen a bar at an airport you wanted to sit at?
Bag: Paper, not plastic. I don’t have wheeled luggage, mostly because I am scared to cause an accident, or hurt myself. I like the Japanese company Porter-Yoshida & Co., which makes simple, lightweight, durable travel bags.
Bedtime: Midnight, but I wish it were earlier. A psychic came into my shop and said, out of the blue, that I was the kind of person who had to be exhausted to go to sleep, which is true!
Bike: My favorite bike is a red one from the late 40s. I got it at the flea market here in New York 18 years ago. It had a license plate that said Michael, my middle name, so it must have been a sign. It’s not bulky, rides well, and looks like a piece of junk, so it’s not desirable to thieves. I’ve had seven bikes stolen since 1992. It is, however, currently seat-less—it was stolen—and waiting for a new one, and an outing.
Boyfriend: Stephen Kent Johnson. I am so lucky to have him in my life. He’s got it all—looks, talent, style, taste, humor. And he can dance, and sing, bake and cook, draw beautifully, and play in the water for hours. He’s also an amazing photographer who understands light. And he always gets all the wild cards in canasta!
Breakfast: Every Thursday, I go to Balthazar at 10:10 after my trainer at Hanson Fitness in SoHo. You wouldn’t know I’ve been going there for over 20 years—I am still skinny, with a big head.
Car: My sister Jan had a convertible two-tone Volkswagen Beetle with a Rolls-Royce grill. It came that way. It was totally beat-up—you could see the ground zoom by through the holes in the floor of the back seat—and it was so much fun.
Childhood: Mine. I loved climbing trees, being high up away from everything. It was fun, challenging, and rewarding. I had a vivid imagination—I daydreamed through elementary school, which I didn’t discover until I was an adult and found report cards from teachers I loved, and read a million comments regarding just that: “He daydreams all day, with his head out the window.” When not in trees, I spent a lot of time creating spaces under our porches and the attic eaves, and in many abandoned buildings. I may have had a few experiences with fire, which I am not legally allowed to talk about. And when I wasn’t burning the local bakery down, you could find me on weekends hiding in our jazzy 70s basement with the lights off and the TV on, while I sat in awe, mingled with fear, and watched the 12-o’clock, 2-o’clock, 4-o’clock, and 6-o’clock movies—if I wasn’t discovered and forced to do yard work. It’s where I may have learned about interiors, if not every kind of plot point from the 30s and 40s. And did I forget to say I am the youngest of six children? Interesting that I managed to spend a lot of quality time alone …
Cocktail: I like a blanco tequila—a count-to-five pour and a half a lime. It’s peppy and refreshing, with no added sugars.
Cocktail appetizer: Stephen created our “fish snack,” inspired by his dear friend Meredith’s love of mermaids. It’s thinly sliced bread or a cracker, with a cheese-size spread of butter, salt, and an anchovy.
Diet: I am newly gluten-free, which is such a bore. Even worse is drawing attention to myself in restaurants. When a waiter asks, “Is it an allergy or a preference?,” I find myself thinking, Who would choose this?
Dinner, Weekday: Any kind of meatball. I grew up eating an Armenian soup nicknamed kuftaliani, which is basically a chicken stock with a small, oval-shaped kufta. I make chicken meatballs and lamb ones, too, and I seem to like any round-shaped foods from all cultures.
Disguise: I am happy in any disguise, but I especially love Halloween. I like to have my face and body covered, I love being someone else—or something else—just for a little bit.
Dress: I am very casual. I like vintage clothes and tend to shop at R.R.L., which does a great job of reproducing vintage clothes. I feel we are all wearing costumes, and mine is just of another time.
Flaw: I wish I liked exercising …
I wish I had one. It sounds mysterious and romantic, and a tad dangerous.
Last Meal: Fasoulia string beans, lamb, and rice.
Lunch, weekday: Il Buco at the bar—the far right corner, usually at 3:30. It’s my canteen.
Movie: I Know Where I’m Going! The song of the same name will always be in my head. I live in Catriona’s house, yet I still have not been to Scotland.
Pets: My cats, Ollie and Skip. Ollie was first and around for a short seven years, and Skip was around for a few months shy of 20.
Piece of advice: “Don’t force anything.”
Shoes: Slip-on and lightweight.
Storm: I love all types of weather, including snow-, rain-, and windstorms. My mom and two of my brothers would be on the porch during many of them, cheering on the thunder. When it was safe to do so, we would run around in the rain and get soaked.
Time of day: Dusk, especially at our house on the Cape. The sunsets are endless; the sky just glows and glows.
Toast: Any kind of bread—gluten-free and always toasted twice—is just a vehicle to eat a delicious array of toppings. Cheese, butter, butter and cheese, avocado, eggs, jams …
Vacation: Greece, because you can float in water all day, and it’s normal.
View: From the top.